"Gidday, mate," called out Ric Williams to Mark Smith. The 4x4 guru of Australia gave a warm greeting of welcome to the 4x4 hero of the United States. After much handshaking, hugging, and a round of introductions, our small American contingent instantly became "blokes," and set its sights on four-wheeling adventure in the land Down Under.
Led by Smith, who runs Jeep Jamboree USA and is legendary for his four-wheel-drive treks and training, we headed the Jeep caravan out of Sydney to the famed Snowy Mountains with our new Aussie friends. Williams, the group's leader, is also highly regarded for his backcountry adventures and for publishing Bushdriver magazine, Australia's leading 4WD publication. The pair recently organized the first Australia Jeep Roundup, based on Smith's successful U.S. model.
Australia is the earth's oldest continent. It is a vast land close in size to the continental United States, but with one major distinction. There are approximately 17 million inhabitants, with nearly 70 percent living in six major cities. In contrast, the United States has 260 million-plus inhabitants. Because much of the land in Australia is open, harsh, and undeveloped, 4WD is a way of life in the outback, and add-on gear is crucial for safe travel. Common add-ons are bullbars, driving lights, towbars, long-range fuel tanks, suspension kits, dual battery systems, and snorkels.
While 4WD has always been extremely popular in Australia, it's becoming even more so. Four-wheel drive registrations in 1997 rose by 42 percent over the previous year. As a result, many auto-makers have turned their attention to this growing market, sending sport/utility vehicles and 4WD products Down Under by the boatload. And it's no surprise that Jeep vehicles are in high demand.
This increasing popularity of Jeep vehicles and a love of the land led Smith to set up his first Australian Jeep event. The trek into the remote Snowy River wilderness area, located southwest of Sydney in the peaks of the Great Dividing Range, drew four-wheeling fans from a wide radius who showed up in stock and modified TJs, CJs, Wagoneers, Cherokees, and Grand Cherokees.
"We had over 6,200 participants in our 34 U.S. programs in 1997, and we responded to the increasing interest in international events," explained Smith. "I love Australia, and have been doing four-wheel-drive trips here for a decade and decided to add this new location to our program."
The two-day-long event was staged in the region popularized by the movie The Man From Snowy River, based on Banjo Paterson's book. The story concerns a horseman, bushrangers, and the lifestyle in the backcountry in the late 1800s. The legend and lore live on for many, and came to life for the Jeep Roundup participants through trail guide David "Fur" Williams, who had a small part in the movie, and chases "brumbies" (wild horses) in the outback today.
The 4WD enthusiasts traveled the rough backcountry roads that traverse the region, alternately ascending to lookouts and points of high vantage above the thick forest, and descending to lowland meadows of wildflowers and river crossings. Camp was set on the banks of the picturesque Snowy River, which forces its way through deep, rocky gorges and cuts through this rugged country along the New South Wales/Victoria border.
Two days were spent riding the rough backcountry. Nights, on the other hand, brought fine food under a large canvas tent; short and tall stories of adventures old and new around the campfire; and a star-filled sky that rivaled any that our American group had seen at home. In the end, as always, the common bond of four-wheeling brought closeness and promises to share the trail again. The journey, however, would be halfway around the world.
For further information or for a guidebook of the 34 locations within the United States for this year's remaining events, call Jeep Jamboree USA at 916/333-4777.